Saturday, 26 April 2008

Steve and Jonah

I realise that I have been talking a lot about myself in my blogs, so perhaps I should spend a little time on my boys to update you all as to their progress. Steve first, who with his counseling partner Paula, has developed the counselor department into a wonderful place where kids, parents and teachers can come to talk about any social/emotional problems they have. I know that the children love to drop in to see Steve and trust him implicitly. I also know that he has helped many of them already and is well supported by the staff and admin of the school. He has been asked to be head of department next year and has already designed his new set of offices in another, quieter wing of the school. He will also have 2 new counselors on the team for next year so things are going to be busier I am sure, but perhaps easier. He works very hard as usual so the weeks go by with just work and sleep until the weekend when it is more sleep and lots of quiet home time. I can sometimes get him out for a coffee during the school day, but very rarely as his office is always busy.
Jonah has had many ups and downs while beginning here. This is a more British System of schooling,  following the International Baccalaureate program. He finds it very intense and yet we see that he is rising to the occasion against his wishes! Steve has to spend time with him regularly on Maths that he has missed and he has found it hard to catch up as the program is so fast and intense and builds all the time on previous concepts taught. However, he managed to gain a mark well above other new kids in the class, so we are expecting that he will continue to do OK. As he missed the first part of this year, his end of year exams will also be difficult and so we will not really know how he is doing until next full year. Jonah has many friends, and each weekend he is out at someone's house, usually his Lebanese and Jordanian friends. They are lovely boys who go to movies, to the shopping centre to wander around or eat and then hang at home. It is still a very innocent world here with no alcohol, no drugs and no dating to speak of. Jonah is trying to also link up with an Australian group of kids who tend to hang out together as well on a compound near here. This will be another positive step. He is still battling with loss of friends at home although they are on the web all the time to each other. He still has tennis coaching twice a week, has dropped soccer because of cultural differences (they just don't use the same techniques for passing etc) and has not become involved in any music yet. He is also having great difficulty picking up on his Spanish which surprises us. We think he just doesn't like to be wrong and so is holding back until he feels totally confident.
We are not at all sure about our time limit here. Steve and I are happy to stay as long as we like, there are many wonderful things to look forward to. Jonah still has his heart set on leaving next June and so we might not be able to dissuade him. Our trip home this June will perhaps give him some clarification on how he truly feels. When we return to here our recreation centre will be ready to open to us with indoor pools, outdoor pools, gyms, play areas, shops, places where he can invite his friends to hang out. It is accessible by overhead walkways from here and will be a great bonus for us all. Other people living in Doha have to join a club in order to have access to these sorts of things. We are so lucky and so well looked after. We shall see what plays out for the best path for us all.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Free Things

Living here is truly interesting, if you have time to do all of the things on offer. This past week I attended an evening with a Nigerian-born poet Chris Abani. His poems and novels are widely sold and he is a well-known presenter around the world, dealing mostly with human rights issues which stem from his early experience of being placed in solitary confinement in a hole in the ground which he had to dig himself. He was there for 6 months, fed through a hole every 4 days and survived to tell his story and the story of many others. It was a riveting evening with a gentle giant of a man who has somehow managed to find love in all of this. The venue was our local Arts Unversity,  VCU and it was all free, including the food and the wonderful book of poems entitled Hands Washing Water. The next day I took a cab to the Sheraton where I had heard that there was an International Documentary film convention hosted by Al Jazeera, our local  excellent television network. I was absolutely blown away for want of a better expression. Again the venue was truly elegant, there were 4 spaces where these wonderful documentaries were being screened. It seemed that many of the film makers were also attending to discuss their film. I managed in a very sort time to see documentaries about; the life of a volkswagon beetle in Brazil- meeting all of its owners - fascinating(KVZ-1348); the journey of a photographer and a handicapped boy from Delhi to the mountains where the Dalai Lama resides, also fascinating and filmed totally by these two, a must-see (Bullets and Butterflies), and several others entitled Say Goodbye, (a family in Gaza), Symphonic Poem (about a Kuwaiti musician). I am so mad that I only attended one day of this festival, I had found out about it too late. I am carrying the program with me so that I can catch up on  some of those I missed which look unbelievable. Again this event was totally free to the public and I came home with gifts as well! I have said this before but it needs to be said again that I do love living here! I am looking forward at present to the graduation ceremony for all of our university students here on Education City from the Universities (Weill Cornell Medical College, Texas A and M, Virginia Commonwealth U,  Carnegie Mellon U Georgetown Uni, Faculty of Islamic Studies) here. This year there will be around 20 students graduating (it is all very new!) For the celebration and graduation ceremony the Queen (Sheikha Moza)  has invited the London Royal Philharmonic? Orchestra along with Sarah Brightman to perform before and during the ceremony. It will all be held outside in the ceremonial court specially designed for these things! It has water, white posts, lights, steps, marble etc etc. You just can't believe it sometimes!

Sunday, 20 April 2008


It is becoming more necessary to me to be able to use some Arabic phrases simply out of courtesy and respect for the culture I find myself in. The population of Qatar is only 14% Qatari people but in fact there are around 53% Arabic speakers, with 33% of other nationalities, so you can see that we are outnumbered by far. The other Arabic speakers of course come from many surrounding countries and many of them have made Doha their permanent place of residence. My doctor is Jordanian, the dentist from Lebanon and our Admissions Officer is from Sudan. This is just a tiny example of the nationalities represented here but my decision to learn basic Arabic is so that I can at least greet people correctly and exchange the niceties that this long greeting requires. The type of Arabic spoken here is Fusha, which is very rich in phrases and respect gestures as well as being a social language. Body language and facial expression is used a lot as well and you often hear people conversing in loud voices. This makes the classes at school sometimes pretty noisy!
My favourite greetings so far are:
assalam alaykum: peace be upon you
wa'alaykum salam: and upon you be peace
sabah al khair: good morning
sabah an noor: may your morning be bright
misaa al khair: good afternoon/evening
misaa an noor: may your evening be bright
marhaba:          welcome
marhabtain: a double welcome to you
ma'a salaamah: farewell/go in safety
Allah yesalmik: May Allah save you
al hamdu lillah: By God's grace
enshalla:       If God wills

If I manage to feel comfortable about these I will be happy for now. My main observation about conversations and talks that I have attended so far is that God(Allah) is included as a centrepiece to people's lives here as a natural and normal way of living. The laws of this country are underpinned by the teachings of the Koran, which is God's law. I know that there are some groups of people who have interpreted these laws in a negative and hostile way but I am thinking that we humans tend to interpret things in the way that suits us, to excuse our actions. Around the world we can find many such groups from many sources. I, personally, am always looking for the pure essence of truth teachings I study and I am finding  that love and kindness is this essence, reflected clearly in the true teachings of Islam.
Abu Jahl saw Muhammad and said:
"What an ugly son of a bitch!"
Muhammed replied:
"You're rude, but you're right."
Abu Abkr saw Muhammed and said:
"You're the beautiful shining sun!"
Muhammed said:
"You're right, my friend.
You've seen through."
Someone listening to this asked:
"How can they both be right 
when they are contracting each other?"
Muhammad said:
"I am a mirror polished by Allah.
In me everyone sees themselves."


Friday, 18 April 2008

More Musings

Hello again, just spent a week in London with my lovely grandson Otso and his parents. Had to fly through Bahrain as I was travelling on Gulf Air which is a Bahrain based airline. I spent one night there and my short impressions were that it is another lovely place surrounded by water, trying to be like its bigger sister Qatar by developing big hotels around a bay. I am told it is cheaper to holiday there and as we can drive through to there we may take a holiday one day. My time in London reminded me more and more how strong the influence of your cultural environment is when you are growing up somewhere. My grandson speaks with a beautiful British accent (when he is not speaking Finnish) and he walks in Shepherds Wood and watches squirrels run up and down the trees as he learns to use an umbrella, negotiate subways and play with his multi-lingual friends. His favourite music is Caribbean at present, his favourite foods veggie sausage and rye bread. We had a lovely visit as my son Nathan and daughter-in-law Katja prepare for a new baby which Otso insists will be a baby boy whose name could be Poppadom
Now I am home to two new kittens (Jonah's) and my lovely boys who have just spent a week in Thailand at an outdoor education camp. They had a ball. My homecoming wish was to have a Thai massage with my favourite lady and then a Morrocan Chicken Tajine meal at the Souq where we sat in the fading, warm light on the top deck, watching on a huge screen the local soccer teams vie for the cup, Steve smoking his beloved apple Shisha while I devoured a wonderful meal with vegetable couscous and mint tea. Our drive home along the Corniche was our next piece of cultural enlightenment for the week. We noticed straight away a series of vehicles with young Thobe-dressed young men sitting out through the sunroof waving the flags of the winning team and generally celebrating. We wondered why the police had not stopped the first two cars we saw until we realised that this is a standard way of celebrating the winning of favourite teams. It appeared that there was going to be a parade eventually of the winning players and in the meantime we had a whole lot of pretend players perched on roofs and out of windows with their faces disguised by scarves, living the dream of being a champion in a parade for that special moment. We decided to just stroll along the Corniche with many other spectators while the sea sparkled with the reflection of thousands of lights and people sat in the grass with their nightly family picnic.  Life is good here.
As an aside, I would urge you to check out Nathan's website, which has his latest CD featured on it. He has just signed a deal with the Naim company to produce and market this CD. We are all very excited.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

My days

For all of my friends out there who are sometimes reading this- I thought I would describe a typical day in my present life so that you can see that I am doing what you all advised and taking it truly easy. Steve and Jonah get up at 5.45 to leave for school at 6.45. I am left here by myself with no car but with lots of lovely ideas. I first go for a walk on the compound with a South African and a Lebanese lady. We cannot walk too far even at this hour because of the heat increasing daily. At present it is getting up to around 38 degrees and will increase to 48 in the next month or two. It is a dry heat at present and quite tolerable. The other day Jonah was playing baseball at midday and there were many expats sitting out in the direct sun with no hats and no sleeves and shorts. I was of course cowering in the shade with my long sleeves and hat and sunscreen on. If I venture to suggest anything about skin cancer I am told that we Australians are unusually paranoid about this subject and vitamin D is important etc etc. So I have learned to say nothing. I digress, when I get home I can watch the daily news from Britain, USA or Aljazzeer - an excellent local news chanel that gives very unbiased news from around the world. I do this while I eat my organic breakfast. Next I check my computer for emails, and get ready for my next adventure. If I want to go downtown I phone my driver and ask a neighbour to join me for a couple of hours in the morning. We have learned that you do not go out at certain times of the day because there is a defenite peak hour time at midday and then again at 4 p.m. In Qatar the work day is usually split into two sessions with a siesta in between.
For those of you who are wondering about my exercise program, you will be truly amazed that I have at last been forced to go to the gym because of the heat and because we have at our disposal a fully equipped gym with a personal trainer if needed. So, four days a week I go and work out by myself in the ladies gym which I am really enjoying. Of course I don't overdo it- not in my nature at all. Two days I go to the pool and do a water aerobics class which is also great fun and feels good for my muscles as well. I have just added a Thai massage to one of my days and will continue to do this weekly as I have found a truly excellent woman who walks up and down my spine for want of a better description. In between all of this activity I am exploring all of the options available to us in Doha. Yesterday we ended up at the La Cigale coffee shop which was a mind-boggling experience. In this brand new hotel -ordered by the Emir because he stayed in one in Lebanon, you can find candies, chocolates, cakes, fresh juices, sushi, sandwiches, quiche etc etc. You simply wander around the huge delicatessen and point to what you want to eat and it is all served to you on delicate platters while you sip the beverage of your choice. Kind of like Lulu's in Mullum with a face lift. Not saying that I prefer this kind of swanky hotel to Lulus and I miss being there often, but it is just an example of life here in the rich lane I guess. When I don't go out I sit here in my air conditioned villa and write or play jazz chords on my ukulele just for the heck of it. Tomorrow I will go to work to help out the admissions team at school for a couple of days so that I can make a little bit of spending money for my visit next week to my family in London. Steve and Jonah are heading off for Thailand to an outdoor adventure camp. I will be sipping tea at Crouch End.